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Uppsala Slott: 5 Things You Ought to Know About One of Sweden’s Greatest Castles

By Minjie Su

A huge, pinkish building, Uppsala Slott (Uppsala Castle) is certainly an unmissable place in Uppsala, Sweden. Proudly sitting on the top of a hill, the castle proudly oversees the entire city. This strategic location not only makes the castle a majestic sight, but also earns it the reputation as the most modern defence fortress in its time. But, as all ancient buildings, there is always more than meets the eye. Here are the five things that you may not know about Uppsala Castle.

Photo by Minjie Su

1. The Founder

First thing first. Who built Uppsala Slott? It was none other than Gustav Eriksson (1496-1560), of House Vasa, First of His Name (if we say it in Game of Thrones style). The house of Vasa is not particularly old; the first, Nils Kettilsson, was a bailiff of the Tre Kronor (Three Crowns) in Stockholm in the 14th century. But the Vasas rapidly rose in power in the following century; by the time Gustav came to court, the Vasas had got their name incorporated into the family tree of Swedish kings of bygone days through Gustav’s mother. Through her, the young Vasa also found himself an uncle in the powerful Sten Sture the Older (1440-1503), the twice-regent of Sweden. Gustav showed remarkable loyalty towards Sture: when he was among the hostages held in Denmark, he was the only one out of six who refused to betray Sture. This loyalty and the close ties between the Vasa and the Sture, however, will soon change after Gustav’s death.

Gustav was elected king of Sweden in 1523, when Sweden finally freed herself from the Kalmar Union and became independent. The Vasa Dynasty, which was to rule Sweden for the next 130 years, was thus established, and Gustav came to be regarded as the founder of modern Sweden. Since the new king was never got crowned, the date of his election was chosen to be Sweden’s National Day.

2. The Castle

To be simply hailed king is a rather different matter from a well-established dynasty. It is especially hard for the first ruler, as history repetitively tells us, not to mention that Sweden had been kingless for a very time when Gustav took the throne. There are always wars to fight, treaties to sign, and rebellions to suppress. Gustav never managed to annex all the provinces as he wished, but his position as king became secure soon enough. Now it is time to carry out reforms across country.

Uppsala Castle is among one of Gustav’s reforms. Having once captured Stockholm himself, Gustave probably knew better than anyone else how important defence fortresses are and how vital they could be in wars. Uppsala surely is an important spot – not only that it is near Stockholm, which became the centre of royal power under Gustav’s reign, but Uppsala also strategically borders on Dalarna, which rebelled against Gustav three times in the first decade of his reign. It must have come as no surprise, therefore, that Gustav ordered a defence fortress to be constructed on the vantage point of Uppsala in 1549.

Photo by Minjie Su

3. The Dungeon

In fact, the pink castle with adorable round towers as one can see today is very far from the fortress Gustav built. Gustav’s successors never really ceased to expand and rebuild the edifice during the years, to match the growing grandeur of the Swedish royal house. Moreover, the castle was seriously burned to ground in 1702; it was only slowly rebuilt during the 18th century.
Yet a part still remains that once belonged to Gustav’s fortress to give the beholders a sense of what the old castle may look like. It is known today as Vasaborgen, ‘the Vasa castle’.

Photo by Minjie Su

The moderate round building lies just next to one of the paths leading towards the castle. The building is mostly restored on the outside, though it never regained its old grandeur – at the time of the fire, it had been rebuilt into a Renaissance castle. The inside it is largely ruins; one can see pale, red bricks on the bare walls. Although royal apartments and banquet halls can still be easily distinguished, Vasaborgen today tends to be referred to as ‘the Dungeon’. After all, prisoners used to be kept in the damp, dark cells beneath the golden halls; many of them never managed to see the sun again.

4. The Murder

The most famous victims perished in the Bayliff Dungeon (as it was then called) are the Stures – yes, the same house to which Gustav was so attached and showed great loyalty. With Sten Sture the Old having passed away long ago, now the patrimony falls into the hand of Sten’s grandson Svante Stensson Sture and his sons. In the 1560s, Erik XIV, Gustav Vasa’s eldest son and successor, grew suspicious of the Stures. This is, on one hand, probably because of Erik’s own troubled mental status and the worsened relationship between him and the Swedish nobility; on the other, Erik, having been heirless for some time, feared that the Stures may be plotting to take the throne, since they had as much as blue blood as the Vasa.

In 1567, Erik put Svante Sture and two elder sons of his under imprisonment in Uppsala Slott. A national assembly (riksdag) was scheduled to be held, and Erik promised to not to hurt the Stures. Yet the day before the riksdag, Erik suffered some serious mental breakdown – not least because he heard that his younger brother Johan started a rebellion against him. Dagger in hand, he rushed down to the Dungeon and brutally stabbed Svante, before he ordered the guards to butcher the rest. The crime, however, broke Erik’s sanity thoroughly – he was found wandering in the woods afterwards. He may have thought killing the Stures a way to secure his power, but the tragic and unjust death of the Stures only accelerated his downfall. Erik was deposed in 1569, and the crown passed onto Johan, precisely as Erik feared.

5. The Ghost

Any old castle should be able to boast its ghost, some are even haunted by multiple ones – for instance, the Royal Palace in Stockholm is home to several lady ghosts dressed in various colours. Not lacking in dark secrets and foul murders, Uppsala Slott is expected to have no less. The poor Stures, you may think, must still linger in the dungeon, but it is not their ghosts that have been sighted throughout Vasaborgen’s long history; perhaps they have made peace with King John, or it is not the place that they hate so much. The one ghost that still walks within the castle ruins today is Princess Cecilia, the second daughter of Gustav Vasa. She was said to be intelligent and exceedingly beautiful. Surely Gustav had high hopes for her, when he ordered the girls’ portraits to be painted and circulated around European courts. The young maiden, however, seems to have a different mind.

In October 1559, Cecilia’s older sister Princess Katarina married Count Edzard of East Frisia. After the royal wedding, the couple slowly made their way to East Frisia, taking Princess Cecilia on the tour. All seemed going well, until rumours came that a figure had been repetitively sighted outside Princess Cecilia’s quarters after nightfall when they stopped at Vadsterna. Guards were posted outside the Prince’s window, and the intruder was soon found to be Count Johan, the bridegroom’s brother and co-ruler of East Frisia; he was caught trouser-less in the Princess’s bedchamber. This scandal caused great grief to Gustav, who immediately ordered Cecilia’s return and put Katarina and Edzard under house arrest. Cecilia later accused her father of domestic violence. There is no way to find out the truth, but apparently Cecilia’s experience with Uppsala Castle is so bad that, even her marriage and travels took her far away from Uppsala and Sweden, she returns to her father’s great fortress after death.

Photo by Minjie Su

Click here to learn more about Uppsala Castle

You can follow Minjue Su on Twitter @minjie_su 

Click here to read more articles by Minjie

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